This Week in London – ‘Hidden Highlights’ at Westminster Abbey; food and Black entrepreneurship; and, ride the Dodgems at Somerset House…

Westminster Abbey Library, part of of the ‘Hidden Highlights’ tour. PICTURE: Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

A lost medieval sacristy used by Westminster Abbey’s monks in the 13th-century which has been revealed in the abbey grounds has been opened to the public. A visit to the dig uncovering the former sacristy is one of the stops on new ‘Hidden Highlights’ tours which also take in other areas not usually open to the public including the Jerusalem Chamber where King Henry IV died in 1413 and, the Library, formerly part of the monk’s dormitory which features a 15th century oak roof and 17th century bookcases (pictured above). The tour, which finishes in the Diamond Jubilee Galleries which have been closed since the start of the pandemic, is part of a summer of events at the abbey which also includes open air cinema, visits to the abbey after dark, live music performances and a chance to look behind the scenes at the abbey’s role in the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-news/lost-medieval-sacristy-opens-to-public-for-summer-festival-of-events.

A new exhibition looking at the central role food plays in Black entrepreneurship and identity in the city’s south east has opened at the Museum of London Docklands. Feeding Black: Community, Power & Place puts four businesses in the spotlight – Livity Plant Based Cuisine in Croydon, Woolwich businesses African Cash & Carry and Junior’s Caribbean Stall, and Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell – and tells their stories through objects, recipes and videos as well as newly commissioned photography by Jonas Martinez and original oral histories and soundscapes by Kayode ‘Kayodeine’ Gomez. The free display can be seen until 17th July next year in the London, Sugar & Slavery gallery. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

Ride the dodgems at Somerset House. Dodge, described as a “thrilling open air experience” that takes an “inventive twist on the traditional fairground”, features dodgem cars and installations from acclaimed artists as well as food and drink and DJ sets. The event runs until 22nd August. There is free entry to the site but charges apply for the dodgem rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk. The event is part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, described as the “biggest domestic tourism the capital has ever seen”.

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10 London hills – 9. Highgate Hill…

Highgate Hill seen from Hampstead Health (with the spire of St Michael’s visible). PICTURE: Adrian Scottow (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

This hill in the city’s north rises 136 metres (446 feet) above sea level and is said to take its name from a tollgate the Bishop of London once erected on the summit.

The hill, which stands to the northeast of the expansive Hampstead Heath and south of Highgate Wood, is topped by Highgate Village, long a fashionable residential district which features some significant 18th century buildings. It boasts views of central London.

Landmarks include the famous Highgate Cemetery – resting place to everyone from Karl Max to George Eliot and Douglas Adams – and the Highgate School, established on 1565 to educate the poor and now a rather exclusive – and expensive – establishment (the school, incidentally, was built on the site of an earlier hermitage). TS Eliot was a former master there and students included Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman.

Other buildings of note include The Flask pub, St Michael’s Church (dating from 1831) and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (dating from 1888).

Famous residents have included Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he was originally buried in a crypt below the school’s chapel but his remains were relocated to St Michael’s Church in 1961) while 16th and early 17th century philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon died in what was then called Arundel House (now The Old Hall) in 1626. Classical scholar and poet AE Housman’s former house at 17 North Road is marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.

Highgate Hill is also famous for being where, so the story goes, Dick Whittington, who was accompanied by his cat, heard the Bow bells and felt called back to London (there’s a monument to Whittington and his cat close to the bottom of Highgate Hill Road).

10 London hills – 8. Harrow Hill…

The Harrow School (left) and St Mary’s Church on top of Harrow Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

This hill in outer north-west London, which rises 124 metres (408 feet) above sea level, is the location of the village Harrow-on-the-Hill.

The hill’s name is said to refer to a Saxon place of worship and was later taken to mean the Christian church that stood upon it.

That church – the historic St Mary’s, the latest incarnation of a Christian church which has stood on the hill since the Norman Conquest – dominates the hill to this day. Nearby is a spot called King Charles’ Well where King Charles I is said to have stopped and taken one last look at London as he made his way from Oxford to surrender to the Scottish army in Nottinghamshire.

The other famous landmark atop the hill, opposite the church, is the world renowned Harrow School, founded under a Royal Charter by John Lyon in 1572, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The hill is also host to a Grade II-listed war memorial and a fine array of historic homes dating from the Georgian period to the early 20th century. Among this who have lived on the hill are 19th. century critic and writer Matthew Arnold and 19th century Scottish author RM Ballantyne.

Panoramic views of Central London can be seen from the top of the hill and there is a famous viewpoint in the churchyard known as Lord Byron’s View, which looks away to the north-west. It’s so-called because Byron, while a schoolboy at Harrow, was a frequent visitor to the spot by a tombstone – called the “Peachy Tomb”- where he would apparently spend time “dreaming”.

Byron’s View atop Harrow on the Hill. PICTURE: Google Maps

10 London hills – 2. Cornhill…

Looking along the street named Cornhill from its western end with the Royal Exchange on the left. PICTURE: Teseum
(licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The highest of the city’s three ancient hills (at 17.7 metres or 58 feet above sea level), it was on Cornhill that the first Romans settled following the invasion of 43AD and the later the site of the basilica.

In medieval times, a grain market was established on Cornhill which gave it the name it now bears.

Cornhill was also the location of a pillory (Daniel Defoe famously spent a day here in 1703 after writing a seditious pamphlet), stocks, and a prison known as the Tun where street walkers and lewd women were incarcerated.

Remembered in the name of the street which today runs from Bank junction to the western end of Leadenhall Street as well as being the name of one of London’s 25 wards, the hill is the site of several churches.

These include the aptly named St Michael Cornhill and St Peter-upon-Cornhill (said to be the oldest place of Christian worship in London) as well as the curiously named St Benet Fink (despite being rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 this was eventually demolished in 1844 when the Royal Exchange was rebuilt).

The hill was also the location of The Standard, at the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Streets. Constructed in 1582, this was the first mechanically pumped public water supply in London. It was sometimes used as a point from where to measure distances out of London.

The area became famed for its coffee houses in the 16th to 19th centuries (Pasqua Rosée opened what is claimed to be London’s first in St Michael’s Alley in 1652) and as such was a financial centre. Much of Cornhill is now occupied by offices.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – A recap…

We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…

1. Cheapside…

2. Merton Priory…

3. Guildhall…

4. London churches…

5. The Tower of London…

6. Westminster Abbey…

7. Southwark…

8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.

This Week in London – English Heritage sets out timetable for reopening; Westminster Abbey a vaccination clinic; and, rare meteorite arrives at Natural History Museum…

Eltham Palace grounds in south-east London. PICTURE: Gordon Joly (licensed under CC BY SA 2.0)

English Heritage – which manages a number of historic properties in London including Eltham Palace, Kenwood House and Marble Hill House – has announced they will reopen progressively from 29th March. Initially only the grounds of more than 60 properties across England will be open with building interiors to open from 17th May. A summer events programme is scheduled to start on 21st June. Visits must be booked in advance and the organisation has asked that people bear in mind the government’s latest advice, and be aware that they shouldn’t travel outside of your local area. For a full list of properties that are reopening, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.

It’s a unique place to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The NHS announced this week that a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic has opened in Westminster Abbey’s South Transept, home to Poet’s Corner. Run by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, on behalf of the local GP network, the location is expected to provide up to 2,000 inoculations each week. The clinic is only open for those with an appointment. Invitation letters will explain how people can book a slot and NHS leaders are urging people not to turn up at the centres without an appointment.

Meteorite recovered from Winchcombe PICTURE: Trustees of the Natural History Museum

A fragment of a meteorite which was located in Gloucestershire after recently falling to Earth in a rather spectacular fireball has been brought to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The 300 gram chunk of meteorite, which is known as a carbonaceous chondrite, was discovered on a driveway in the Cotswold town on Winchcombe. It’s path tracked by specialised cameras across the country as part of the UK Fireball Alliance, the meteorite was retrieved in such a good condition and so quickly after its fall that scientists say it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions, both in quality and size. Other pieces of the meteorite have also been recovered in the area. The rare meteorite – it is the first known carbonaceous chondrite to have been found in the UK and the first meteorite to be recovered in the UK in 30 years – will now undergo further study.

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10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

PICTURE: Morgaine (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

High profile and influential though he was during his lifetime – serving as Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, it was the brutal and shocking nature of Thomas Becket’s death that ensured he would be remembered down through the ages.

Already strained, relations between King Henry II and Becket took a further downturn after the Archbishop excommunicated Roger de Pont L’Évêque, the Archbishop of York, Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the Bishop of Salisbury, thanks to their role in crowning Henry, the Young King, in York, without the Archbishop’s permission.

On hearing the news of the excommunication, King Henry II is said to have uttered those immortal words, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (although there is considerable dispute over exactly what he said – contemporary biographer (and Canterbury monk) Edward Grim, for example, has the quote as: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”).

Whatever the exact words, the King’s utterance – made while he was at Bur-le-Roi near Bayeaux in modern France – was interpreted as a command by four knights who were present – Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton. Leaving the castle, they set out for England to confront the Archbishop.

The knights arrived at Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December, 1170, and informed Becket that he was commanded to go to Winchester to answer for his actions. Becket refused and the knights, retrieving weapons and armour they had stashed outside the cathedral, returned to the cathedral and hunted down Becket (who had apparently ordered the doors to remain open) with swords in their hands.

They found him at a door to the cloister near the stairs leading up to the cathedral quire where monks were chanting vespers. Becket is reported to have said “I am no traitor and I am ready to die” before one of the knights tried to pull him inside. Grabbing a pillar, he refused to go. The knights then struck him with a series of blows on the head which proved fatal.

A modern memorial to Becket which features a statue depicting him lying back with his hand raised as though to ward off blows as he is attacked, is located in St Paul’s Churchyard. The statue, which is made from resin coloured to appear as bronze, is the work of Bainbridge Copnall and was created in 1970 as part of commemorations marking 800 years since his death. It was acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1973.

It was damaged by a falling cherry tree in 1987 but was restored by a student of Copnall.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 4. London churches…

Around 1145, Thomas Becket left the household of the financier Osbert Huitdeniers and entered the household of Theobold, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It’s unclear how he made the transition, although it has been speculated it was possibly through family connections, but by the following year, he was well-ensconced as a clerk in the archbishop’s household.

Like many great households, the Archbishop’s moved between various residences including his palace beside Canterbury Cathedral, various manors and the royal court (Lambeth Palace, the current home of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London was constructed after Becket’s death).

St Mary le Strand as it is today. PICTURE: James Stringer (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Becket rose in the Archbishop’s favour and while serving in his household was given the living of churches including St Mary le Strand in London and Otford in Kent as well as being made a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral (he wasn’t expected to attend the churches to receive the incomes).

The current St Mary le Strand dates from the early 18th century; the church from which Thomas drew an income was an earlier versions and stood a little to the south of the current building.

St Paul’s, meanwhile, was an early version of the pre-Great Fire of London version of the building. During Becket’s time, the grand structure was still under construction (building had been disrupted by a fire in 1135 and the cathedral wasn’t consecrated until 1240, well after Becket’s death).

The present cathedral has a rather spectacular statue of Becket in the churchyard (but we’ll deal with that separately in a later post in this series).

10 London buildings that were relocated…7. St Luke’s, Euston Road…

Wanstead United Reformed Church. PICTURE: The wub (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

St Luke’s briefly stood on Euston Road before, thanks to the growing demands of the railways, it was demolished and subsequently rebuilt, brick-by-brick in Wanstead.

Designed by John Johnson (one of the architects of St Paul’s Church, Camden Square), this church was erected on the corner of Euston and Midland Roads between 1856 and 1861. It replaced a temporary iron church which had been erected on the site in the early 1850s.

But the construction in the mid-1860s of St Pancras railway station by the Midland Railway – and the compulsory acquisition of the land – meant the church had to be removed.

While the congregation, compensated with some £12,500 by the railway company, relocated to Kentish Town, the church building itself was sold to another congregation for £500.

Demolished, it was subsequently transported to Wanstead where it was it was rebuilt in 1866-67, with some alterations by Johnson who oversaw the process.

Now the Wanstead United Reformed Church (it changed denominations), it was designated a Grade II-listed building in 2009, partly due to it being one of few examples of a church which has been moved and substantially reconstructed to its original form by the original architect.

10 London buildings that were relocated…6. The spire of St Antholin…

The St Antholin spire in Sydenham. PICTURE: IanVisits (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Of medieval origins,the Church of St Antholin, which stood on the corner of Sise Lane and Budge Row, had been a fixture in the City of London for hundreds of years before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren, it survived until 1874 when it was finally demolished to make way for Queen Victoria Street.

But, while the building itself was destroyed (and we’ll take a more in-depth look at its history in an upcoming article), a section of Wren’s church does still survive – the upper part of his octagonal spire (apparently the only one he had built of stone).

This was replaced at some stage in the 19th century – it has been suggested this took place in 1829 after the spire was damaged by lightning although other dates prior to the church’s demolition have also been named as possibilities.

Whenever its removal took place, the spire was subsequently sold to one of the churchwardens, an innovative printing works proprietor named Robert Harrild, for just £5. He had it re-erected on his property, Round Hill House, in Sydenham.

Now Grade II-listed, the spire, features a distinctive weathervane (variously described as a wolf’s head or a dragon’s head). Mounted on a brick plinth, it still stands at the location, now part of a more modern housing estate, just off Round Hill in Sydenham.

Lost London – The Tower Royal…

PICTURED: Not the Tower Royal, but a window from the Tower of London.

Dating possibly from as far back as the early medieval period, this royal lodging once stood in the City of London.

The building, which has been described variously as a palace as well as a strongly defended tower house, was located in the parish of St Michael Paternoster and gave its name – Tower Royall – to the street in which it was located (now long gone).

It has been suggested the property could date from as far back as the reign of King Henry I in the early 12th century and it has also been said that King Stephen is said to have lodged there later that same century (although some put the origins a bit later, possibly in the reign of King Edward I, who ruled from 1272 to 1307).

It was apparently in the possession of King Edward III in 1320 – he is said to have granted it to his wife, Queen Phillippa, who enlarged it and established her wardrobe there (hence it was sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen’s Wardrobe’).

On Queen Phillippa’s death, the king is said to have granted it to the Dean and Canons of Westminster but by 1371 it was apparently back in royal hands – Joan of Kent, the mother of the future King Richard II was living there at that time (Richard when king, apparently rode there to tell her of the suppression of the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381).

It is said to have been given to the Duke of Norfolk by his friend, King Richard III, in the 15th century, but, according to 16th century historian John Stow, by 1598 it had fallen into disrepair and was used for stabling the king’s horses.

The premises – believed to be located close to what is now Cannon Street, not far from Mansion House Tube Station – was among the buildings destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was not rebuilt.

This Week in London – King’s maps go online; life at Tower Bridge; Wildlife Photographer of the Year; and, the Gruffalo at Kew…

• Treasures including a hand-drawn map of New York City presented to the future King James II in 1664, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural drawings for Castle Howard and some London churches, and Italian Jesuit Matteo Ripa’s massive 1719 Kangxi Map of China are among thousands of maps and views The British Library have placed online. The library is now nearing the end of the project to put 40,000 early maps and views online and most can now be accessed via the library’s Flickr Commons collection website. The documents are all part of the Topographical Collection of King George III, itself a distinct segment of the King’s Library which was donated to the Nation by King George IV in 1823. Other highlights to go online include Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto’s drawings of the town of Lucca, dating from about 1742, James Cook’s 1763 large manuscript map of the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, and watercolours by noted 18th century artists including Paul Sandby and Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. PICTURED: Nicholas Hawksmoor, [An elevation and plan for St George, Bloomsbury]. London, between 1712 and 1730. Maps K.Top 23.16.2.a.

• A new exhibition celebrating the lives of those who work behind the scenes at Tower Bridge and the visitors who walk its floors opens in the iconic bridge’s Engine Rooms on Friday. Lives of a Landmark features images commissioned in 2019 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the bridge. Photographer Lucy Hunter spent several months at the bridge, recording daily life there and this display is the result. Admission charge applies. For more, head here.

Winning images from The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year – including Sergey Gorshkov’s Grand Title winner, a rare glimpse of Siberian tigress – go on show at the South Kensington-based museum from Friday. The exhibition features the 100 images, selected from more than 49,000 entries, that were short-listed for the 56th annual competition, the results of which were announced in a virtual ceremony earlier this week. Runs until 6th June. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html.

The Gruffalo is the subject of a new “curated journey” taking place over the half-term break in Kew Gardens’ Arboretum. Visitors are encouraged to play the role of the “little brown mouse” and follow a trail to track down the Gruffalo, along the way encountering some of the other characters from Julia Donaldson’s famous book including Fox, Owl and Snake. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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10 London buildings that were relocated…4. The tower of All Hallows Lombard Street…

One of the lost churches of the City of London, All Hallows Lombard Street once stood on the corner of this famous City street and Ball Alley.

Dating from medieval times, the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London and, while the parishioners initially tried their own repairs, it was subsequently rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren and completed by 1679.

All Hallows Twickenham
All Hallows Twickenham on Chertsey Road. PICTURE: Maxwell Hamilton (licensed under CC BY 2.0

The result was apparently a rather plan building but it did feature a three storey tower (in fact, so hemmed in by other buildings did it become that some called it the “invisible church”). The church also featured a porch which had come from the dissolved Priory of St John in Clerkenwell and had, from what we can gather, been part of the previous building.

Among those who preached in the rebuilt church was John Wesley in 1789 (he apparently forgot his notes and, after some heckling from the congregation, it’s said he never used notes again).

The parish of St Dionis Backchurch was merged with All Hallows when the latter was demolished in 1878 (All Hallows has already been merged with St Benet Gracechurch when that church was demolished in 1868 and St Leonard Eastcheap in 1876). Bells from St Dionis Backchurch were brought to All Hallows following the merger.

The declining residential population in the City saw the consolidation of churches and following World War I, All Hallows Lombard Street was listed for demolition. There was considerable opposition to the decision but structural defects were found in the building’s fabric and demolition eventually took place in 1937.

But there was to be a second life of sorts for the church. The square, stone tower, including the porch and fittings from the church such as the pulpit, pews, organ and stunning carved altarpiece, were all used in the construction of a new church, All Hallows Twickenham in Chertsey Road.

Designed by architect Robert Atkinson, it was one of a couple of new churches built with proceeds from the sale of the land on which All Hallows Lombard Street had stood.

Replacing an earlier chapel, the new Twickenham church was consecrated on 9th November, 1940 by the Bishop of London, Geoffrey Fisher (apparently with the sound of anti-aircraft fire in the background).

The 32 metre high tower houses a peal of 10 bells, including some of those from St Dionis Backchurch, as well as an oak framed gate decorated with memento mori carvings – including skulls and crossbones – which came from All Hallows Lombard Street.

10 London buildings that were relocated…3. St Mary Aldermanbury…

This church – not to be confused with the similarly named but still existing St Mary Aldermary – once stood at the corner of Love Lane and Aldermanbury in the City of London.

St Mary Aldermanbury, now part of the National Churchill Museum on the campus of Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, in the US. PICTURE: J. Stephen Conn (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Founded in the 11th or early 12th century, the church – the name of which apparently relates to an endowment it received from an Alderman Bury, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in a simple form with no spire.

It was gutted during the Blitz – one of 13 Wren churches hit on the night of 13th December, 1940 – and the ruins were not rebuilt. Instead, in the 1960s (and this is where we get to the relocation part) a plan was put into action to relocate the church so it could form part of a memorial to Winston Churchill in the grounds of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

It was only after four years of planning and fundraising (the project apparently cost some $US1.5 million with the money raised from donors including actor Richard Burton) that the relocation process finally began in 1965.

PICTURE: Jonathan Pearson
(licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It started with workers in London cleaning, removing and labelling each of the church’s 7,000 stones so they could be reconstructed correctly on the other side of the Atlantic.

They were shipped free-of-charge – the US Shipping Board moved them as ship’s ballast – and then taken by rail to Fulton.

By the time the stones reached Fulton they had been jumbled. And so began the painstaking process of reassembling what was described as the “biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture” (with the stones spread over an acre, it apparently took a day just to find the first two stones).

While the first shovel on the project had been turned by former US President Harry S Truman on 19th April, 1964 (his connection to the project will become clear), the foundation stone was laid in October, 1966, 300 years after the Great Fire of London.

The shell of the church was completed by May, 1967. Two more years of work saw the church’s interior recreated with English woodcarvers, working from pre-war photographs, to make the pulpit, baptismal font, and balcony (new glass was also manufactured and five new bronze bells cast for the tower). The finished church, which was rededicated in May, 1969, was almost an exact replica of the original but apparently for a new organ gallery and a tower window.

Why Fulton for a tribute to Churchill? The connection between Churchill and Westminster College went back to the post war period – it was in the college’s historic gymnasium building that, thanks to a connection the institution had with President Truman, Churchill was to give one of his most famous speeches – the 1946 speech known as ‘Sinews of Peace’ in which he first put forward the concept of an “Iron Curtain” descending between Eastern and Western Europe.

The church is now one part of the National Churchill Museum, which also includes a museum building and the ‘Breakthrough’ sculpture made from eight sections of the Berlin Wall. It was selected for the memorial – planned to mark the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s speech – thanks to its destruction in the Blitz, commemorating in particular the inspiring role Churchill had played in ensuring the British people remained stalwart despite the air raids.

St Mary Aldermanbury Gardens in London. PICTURE: Bogdan Tapu (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Meanwhile, back in London the site of the church has been turned into a garden. It contains a memorial to John Heminges and Henry Condell, two Shakespearean actors who published the first folio of the Bard’s works and were buried in the former church. The footings upon which the church once stood can still be seen in the garden and have been Grade II-listed since 1972.

LondonLife – The Battle of Britain remembered…

Dignitaries including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Michael Wigston, were among those attending a service commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain in Westminster Abbey on Sunday. The service, which was witnessed by fewer people than would normally have been the case due to the coronavirus pandemic, included an Act of Remembrance during which the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour – containing the names of the 1,497 pilots and aircrew killed or mortally wounded during the 112 days of fighting – was carried through the church and placed beside the High Altar. After the service three Spitfires and a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight took part in a flypast over the Abbey. Pictured above are the standard bearers formed up on the altar at the service (all pictures via MOD © Crown copyright 2020)

Above: The Queen’s Colour Squadron lining the entrance to Westminster Abbey.

Above: Prime Minister Boris Johnson carrying out a reading during the service.

Above: FO Buckingham saluting the Battle of Britain memorial stained glass window at Westminster Abbey.

Above: The four planes from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight fly above the Abbey.

Lost London – St Giles hospital for lepers…

Partly located on a site now occupied by the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields in central London  was a leprosy hospital founded by Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I, in 1101.

The site was located outside the City walls making it ideal for such an establishment (given lepers had to isolate from the rest of the population) and the hospital, one of the first such establishments in England, was dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of outcasts.

As well as an oratory or chapel, the hospital, initially founded on eight acres of farmland, is believed to have included houses for lepers, a master’s house, and quarters for a chaplain, clerk and servant. A chapter house was added in the early 14th century.

The hospital was under the care of the crown and in 1299, King Edward I ordered that the hospital be run by and its revenues given to the military Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (also known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem or Lazarists).

By the 15th century leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease) was on the decline in England but this hospital continued to be used for lepers until at least 1500 after which it is recorded that it had opened it doors to the poor who needed care.

In 1539, the hospital was closed under King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. While the chapel remained in use as a parish church (it was at this time that “in-the-fields” was added to the church’s name), the hospital’s other buildings were given by King Henry VIII to John Dudley, Lord Lisle (and later Duke of Northumberland and Protector of Edward VI, the king’s eventual heir).

The church, meanwhile, had fallen into a poor state of repair by the early 1600s and was demolished. Construction of a Gothic replacement started in 1623 in a project largely funded by Alice, Duchess Dudley, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley. The new church was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London in 1631. The current building dates from 1733 (but more about that at another time).

PICTURE: The church of St Giles-in-the-Fields as it appears now. (Prioryman/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lost London – Church of St Stephen Coleman Street…

Among the buildings destroyed in the Blitz, St Stephen Coleman Street was one of the more than 50 City of London churches designed by the office of Sir Christopher Wren in the wake of the Great Fire of London of 1666.

The church was located on the corner of Coleman and Gresham Streets and replaced an earlier medieval building, the origins of which date back to at least the 13th century (the earliest mention occurs during the reign of King John) and which had also been known as St Stephen in the Jewry due to the number of Jewish people living in the vicinity.

St Stephen’s had apparently become a Puritan stronghold by the early 17th century when the vicars included John Davenport, who later went on to found a colony in Connecticut.

Five members of Parliament whom King Charles I attempted to arrest on 4th January, 1642, hid here as his troops searched for them. During the Commonwealth, the church instituted rules under which only those who were approved by a committee including the vicar and 13 parishioners – two of whom had apparently signed King Charles I’s death warrant, could receive Communion.

Following its destruction in the Great Fire of 1666, the church was rebuilt its former foundations – the new building incorporating some of the ruins of the former and featuring a bell lantern with a gilded weathervane on top – and was largely completed by 1677. In the early 1690s, additional funds gained through a coal tax provided for the construction of a burial vault and a gallery.

Notable vicars after the rebuild included Rev Josiah Pratt (1768-1844) who served for 21 years as secretary of the Church Missionary Society.

While the church suffered some minor damage during an air-raid in World War I, it was repaired. But it was finally destroyed during an air raid on 29th December, 1940, after which the church was not rebuilt but its parish joined with that of St Margaret Lothbury.

A City of London Corporation plaque at the intersection of Coleman Street and Kings Arms Yard marks the site of the former church.

PICTURE: An etching of St Stephen’s Coleman Street published in 1819.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 66 and 65…

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

66. Lost London – The Mermaid Tavern…

65. 10 subterranean sites in London – 4. St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt…

 

10 disease-related memorials in London…7. The Great Plague of 1665…

It is estimated to have killed as many as 100,000 Londoners yet, presumably at least partly due to there fact it was overshadowed by the Great Fire of the following year, there are no grand memorials to the victims of the Great Plague of 1665 in London.

It does, however, get a brief mention on the board outside the church of St Olave Hart Street on the corner of Hart Street and Seething Lane. Recording a few facts about the church’s history from the burial register, it lists “1665 (The Great Plague) 365 names”. (It also lists Mother Goose as buried here in 1586 – but that’s for another time).

Victims of the plague were buried at numerous sites around London – including in the churchyard of St Giles-in-the-Fields and, as recently uncovered during construction of the Crossrail project, in the Bedlam burial ground (there’s a great interactive map of London’s reputed plague pit locations on Historic UK).

Yet, despite this, there remains a dearth of public memorials commemorating those who died.

PICTURE: The Seething Lane entrance of St Olave Hart Street with the blue board  and its mention of the Great Plague of 1665 (Dirk Ingo Franke (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0))

What’s in a name?…Seething Lane…

The name of this narrow throughfare in the City of London has nothing to do with anger. Rather the moniker comes from an old English word meaning ‘full of chaff’ – ‘sifethen’.

The reference relates to the presence of corn market which in medieval times was located nearby in Fenchurch street. The chaff apparently blew down from the market to the laneway. Hence ‘Sifethen’ or ‘Seething’ Lane.

The lane, which runs north-south from the junction of Hart St and Crutched Friars to Byward Street, is famous for being the former location of the Navy Office. Built here in the 1650s, it was where diarist Samuel Pepys worked when appointed Clerk of the Acts of the Navy.

Pepys, who later became Secretary of the Admiralty, was given a house in the lane. The church where he worshipped, St Olave, Hart Street, is still located at the north end of the lane.

Having survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Navy Office burnt down in 1673 and was rebuilt soon after to the designs or Sir Christopher Wren or Robert Hooke. It was eventually demolished in 1788 when the office moved to Somerset House.

There’s a now a recently redeveloped garden where the Navy Office once stood in which can be found a bust of Pepys. The work of late British sculptor Karin Jonzen, it was first placed in an earlier garden on the site by the Pepys Society in 1983.

The garden, which is now part of the Trinity Square development, also features an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating the Navy Office and a series of scenes carved into stone by Alan Lamb depicting scenes from Pepys’ life and diaries.

All Hallows-by-the-Tower stands at the south end of the partly pedestrianised street.

PICTURE: Top – Google Maps (image lightened); Right – The bust of Samuel Pepys in the Seething Lane Gardens (Dave Bonta/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)